For the first time since the days of Mike Richter, the New York Rangers got substantial — and consistent — production from between the pipes last season.
Playing in his seventh NHL season, Henrik Lundqvist was the best goalie across the league, numbers-wide, in 2011. He was the back-bone of the best defensive team in the NHL, and quickly became the hallmark man of New York.
Lundqvist, who won his first Vezina Trophy and has been with the Rangers for his entire career, finally had playoff success last season. He had helped the Rangers to the playoffs five other times in his young career, but was never able to get them to a conference final appearance. In 2007 and 2008, Lundqvist reached the second round, but couldn’t garner much success there.
So when the Rangers finally reached the Easteern Conference Final this May, they were in territory that was new to several of their players, and certainly the man in net.
Despite falling to the New Jersey Devils in six games, Lundqvist looked strong. He posted shutouts in games one and three for New York, making several impressive saves in those two games. As the series wore on, however, it appeared that not even Lundqvist would be able to save the Rangers. Simply put, playing in close games for so long caught up to them — along with playing in seven games in the first two series of the playoffs.
None of that, though, can take away the year Lundqvist had.
His 1.97 goals-against-average ranked fourth in the league, and his 39 wins was third to only the Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne and the Pens’ Marc-Andre Fleury.
He also posted the leagues fourth-best save percentage, .930, and finished third in shutouts with eight.
More than all those numbers, however, Lundqvist learned to do the most important thing in New York: win.
After playing second fiddle to teams like the Devils, Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, Lundqvist turned the Rangers into winners last year, and they took that title and ran with it. For the latter part of the regular season, New York was the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Although the Rangers didn’t win the conference — or the Stanley Cup — Lundqvist was the leader behind one of their best teams since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Their season ended in disappointment, but looking further into the spectrum, it could all just be the beginning. At 30, Lundqvist has some good years of hockey left in him, and if 2011 is any type of indicator, there could be playoff success in the next few years in New York.
That is what that city is all about, anyway.